Thursday, February 19, 2015

Petting someone else's pets

I was going to title this “Interaction with animals”, but decided that the above title was snappier.  I will write about pets this time and write about some of the interesting interactions that I’ve had with wild animals another time.

My family has had goldfish now and again, but none have been memorable.  The first pet that I remember was when I was in elementary school.  I met a stray cat that welcomed the food that we gave it.  I remember feeding it by the icebox on the back stoop.  Yes, ice box, one that was filled by an iceman.  Like most cats it spent time roaming the neighborhood.  Then one day my friends on the next block said they thought their dad had run over “my” cat in their driveway.  It was hard to tell, but “the cat never came back”.

We didn’t have any more pets until I was in college.  My mother and stepfather bought a dachshund.  Somewhere there is a picture of me on the kitchen floor playing with the dog.  I think they had two more dachshunds after that.

My mother’s aunt and uncle had a parakeet that they would let fly loose in the house.  I think they called it Petey. It would land on extended fingers or even on Uncle Clyde’s bald head.  One day somebody opened a door at the wrong time, and Petey was never seen again.

My wife’s family favored boxers.  When we started dating, they had one called Grig.  Grig liked to “fight”.  If one put on a leather glove in the back yard, she was happy to jump up, grasp one’s hand in her teeth, and hold on as one swung the gloved had every which way.  She would even hold on while being lifted into the air.  I think I usually wore out before Grig did.

After our daughter was born, I bought a black spaniel mix from a shelter; my wife named him Jynx, word play on ink.  We moved with him from Cleveland to Minneapolis.  We moved to Minnesota partially for the canoeing, and we took Jynx with us on many of our trips.  We often put a white sheet around him to keep him cool.  We gave him away when we moved to Europe, and he went to the new owners like he belonged there.

When we moved back to the United States, my wife and kids chose a puppy from a pound.  They named her Silky because her hair was so fine.  She was sort of a wild one; she would often slip her leash and run around the neighborhood.  This went on her whole life.

Our son also picked up a stray cat that he named Ralph; it too was run over.  Shortly thereafter my wife brought home Felicia from a co-worker.  Felicia and Silky got along for the most part.  We have a picture of them curled up together on a cushion.  But they had their tussles; Silky would try to eat Felicia’s food, and Felicia would ambush Silky.

We had to put Felicia’s food up on a counter to keep it safe.  Felicia needed to leap up to the counter to get to it. Actually she didn’t so much leap as do a fast climb.  The tops of the cabinet drawers showed how she had clawed her way up.

Felicia had a litter box in the basement, and so she didn’t go out as often as Silky had to.  Many times Felicia would wait around the corner from the stairs for Silky to come in.  She would pounce, startle Silky, and then walk away.

I would play my own mind games with Silky.  She would bring a ball for me to throw down the hallway. Sometimes she would chase after the ball and bring it back.  Sometimes I would only make the motion of throwing, and she would chase after the ball and wonder where it went.  But these tricks did not deter her from asking to play another day.

Going outside was Felicia’s undoing.  I had let her out and went back to my home office.  Suddenly Silky, who was inside, started barking angrily.  Two stray dogs had attacked Felicia in our back yard.  I chased them away, but they had already seriously injured Felicia.  I took her to a vet, but she was too gravely injured to have any surgery.  For a long time after, Silky would wander the house looking for her buddy.

Silky’s turn came a few years later, not by attack or accident, but by old age.  She had difficulty controlling her hind legs and neighboring parts.  We took her to the vet.  The vet shaved a leg, put a needle in, and Silky collapsed.

Over twenty years later, it is hard to write about these two buddies with dry eyes.

Since then, I have decided that pets are for other people to care for.  You feed them, take them outside, and vacuum up all the shed hairs. I’ll happily scratch ears, necks, and chests.  It’s surprising the number of dogs who poke their noses at “strangers” for this affection.

Mel has learned to ignore the “dog that wants out”, aka robo-calls.

This was also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-02-19 at